Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Barbara Stanwyck and Barry Sullivan in Samuel Fuller's "Forty Guns"

Forty Guns (1957) is an American western written and directed by Samuel Fuller and starring Barbara Stanwyck and Barry Sullivan. The film also stars Dean Jagger, John Ericson, and Gene Barry.

John Ericson and Barbara Stanwyck

Jessica Drummond (Stanwyck) runs the territory of Tombstone in Cochise County, Arizona, with her "Forty Guns," men and landowners who she controls, with an iron fist. Enter Griff Bonnell, and his brothers, Wes and Chico. Griff, a reformed gunfighter, is working for the Attorney General's office, looking to arrest Howard Swain (Chuck Roberson). 

Things get tense when Griff confronts Jessica's baby brother Brockie (John Ericson), a drunk bully who routinely bullies the town, going so far as to shoot the town marshal (Hank Worden) in the leg. Griff pistol whips Brockie and knocks him out with one blow, bringing order back to the town.

Will Jessica seek revenge for her brother, setting in motion, more strife in Tombstone?

Jessica Drummond and her Forty Guns

Samuel Fuller (1912 - 1997) was an American director, screenwriter, novelist, and journalist. Fuller got his start writing and directing B-pictures. He wrote and directed two cult films in the early 1960s: Shock Corridor (1963) and The Naked Kiss (1964). In 1957, he directed Barbara Stanwyck in the western classic Forty Guns. Later in Fuller's career, he directed the big-budget World War II film, The Big Red One starring Lee Marvin and Mark Hamill. Fuller's work influenced directors Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino.

Barbara Stanwyck (1907 – 1990) was an American film star who got her acting start with a supporting role on Broadway in a play called The Noose (1926). The next year she had the lead in another Broadway production, Burlesque which was a huge hit. She eventually made it to Hollywood where her success was not immediate. Director Frank Capra saw something in Stanwyck and he educated her in filmmaking and film acting and the rest is history. Stanwyck was nominated four times for the Best Actress Oscar—Stella Dallas (1937), Ball of Fire (1941), Double Indemnity (1945), Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)—and remains one of the most beloved movie stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Barry Sullivan (1912 - 1994) was an American film actor whose career dates back to the 1930s. Sullivan had roles on the stage as well as in film. He was under contract to Paramount and MGM studios, playing mostly supporting roles, although he often had some leading-man roles opposite stars like Lorreta Yound, Lana Turner, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, and Barbara Stanwyck. Sullivan worked in television during the 1950s and beyond. He guest-starred on Highway Patrol, Alfed Hichcock Presents, Playhouse 90, Mission: Impossible.

Forty Guns trivia:

  • Stanwyck did her own stunt, being dragged by a horse, when the stunt woman refused to do it.
  • The film contains one of the longest camera takes in film history.
  • Jessica Drummond was the name of Stanwyck's character in My Reputation (1946).
  • Reviews in the U.S. condemned the violence, but in Europe it was admired for its energetic style.
  • Working title was Woman with a Whip.

To watch the film on YouTube, click the link below.

To join the discussion on June 6, 2022, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an invitation and a link to the discussion on Zoom.

Discussion questions:

  • Stanwyck was 49-years-old when she made this film. Does this fact surprise you?
  • How does the violence from Fuller's Pickup on South Street compare to Forty Guns?
  • What do you make of Fuller's depiction of the two main woman in this film? Are their characters believable to you?
  • Did this film remind you of any others you've seen?
  • The relationship between Jessica and Griff is a complicated one. Did it work well on film?
  • Did anything about this film surprise you?

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